My Cousin Rachel, B
Rated PG-13, 106 minutes
Whatever you do, don't drink the tea, at least that's what the well-acted and grounded new mystery "My Cousin Rachel" wants you to believe. Based on Daphne du Maurier's (who also wrote the novels that were the basis for the classic Hitchcock films "The Birds" and Oscar-winning "Rebecca") novel of the same name and the first big-screen adaptation of the novel since the Richard Burton-Olivia de Haviland 1952 film, it's occasionally sluggish and soapy but it skillfully blurs the line between guilt and innocence.
A young Englishman named Philip ("Me Before You's" Sam Claflin, in career surgence) seeks revenge against his beautiful cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz) after his guardian (and Rachel's husband) mysteriously dies, but soon finds himself falling under the spell of her mysterious charm.
Directed and written by Roger Michell ("Notting Hill," "Hyde Park on the Hudson"), "My Cousin Rachel" is a handsome, stylish drama that's essentially an elegant, slightly twisty soap opera in the vein of "Downton Abbey" minus Maggie Smith. Michell's focused direction and the strong performances from the leads, especially from Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz, hitting the right notes as the titular, same-named character, perfectly imbuing the part with equal parts mystery and charm.
Claflin is also good as Phillip, though a stronger actor is really needed to go heel-to-heel with Weisz, who comes close to walking off with the picture and possibly another Oscar-nomination. It helps that it's mostly a faithful adaptation of Du Maurier's novel, occasionally expanding some themes here and there (notably, sex scenes and a brief epilogue); it falters under some soapier moments (lots of arguments and tears), not to mention some too-obvious references to tea.
With strong production values, including Mike Eley's lovely photography, the detailed sets and costumes, all of which evoke the time period, "My Cousin Rachel" is a prestigious production, though it's also occasionally talky and slow-moving, and not for those expecting an action-packed film. It's certainly one for the adults, and a must-see, especially for the "Downton Abbey" set, and for an excellent Weisz performance.